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As Crazy As They
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As Crazy As They
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In response to Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49"

     When Thomas Pynchon begins this novel, it's fairly apparent that the confusing sentence structures and bizarre descriptions of events are deliberate attempts to hold the reader in a slight haze. When some writers do this, one might immediately get the idea that their intention is to create a mystery that the reader must solve along with the characters in the book. In the case of The Crying of Lot 49, the mystery is a huge one that not only engulfs the life of one character, but the entire reality of the story. The world that the author has created is all seen from the perspective of Oedipa Maas, therefor, when she loses her grasp on reality, reality itself becomes whatever she sees.

     In most literature examples, the loss of reality has a counterbalance that the reader can base his or her perspective on. For every fantasy, there is a reality, and likewise. It is the only way a person can compare and contrast the differences found in the fantasy world. For example, how would we, as humans, know that the Genies featured in Arabic legends are a fictional being if we could not say "Well, no one has ever really seen one"? T.V. and movies have become our fantasy level where we can engage in things that are not found in our "real lives." In the world of Oedipa Maas, the line dividing the two has not only blurred, but disappeared entirely. There is no way on God's Green Earth for her to label the sides accordingly, for everything is fantasy and everything is also real.

     Thomas Pynchon creates a small symbolism of this himself by starting off the story describing elements of existence that truly exist and others that do not, and having them interact with each other in a way that makes them all seem real. For example, there is a supposed world reknowed kazoo concerto (not at all real) performing a piece that is actually quite famous (real in our world). Little combinations of fantasy and reality such as this create a neo-reality in which there is no divider. Anything is possible and everything is likely. It is just as if the characters of a sit-com, when they have left the scene in which the camera is recording, walk into your livingroom to sit and watch the other scenes with you- until they have to go back on, of course! In essence, this story does more than simply describe to us the confusion and oncoming insanity of a character. It sort of lets us experience it ourselves.

     Diving further into themes of counterbalance, Oedipa, in any other story, would be viewed as insane because the reader or viewer would compare her actions, thoughts, dialogue, and appearance to the other "sane" characters in the story. In The Crying of Lot 49, the characters she interacts with are her disc-jockey pedophile husband Mucho Maas, her face-making Nazi psychiatrist Dr. Hilarius, who shoots at her with a rifle when mistaking her for an Israeli, a horny teenage hotel employee named Miles and his British-wannabe rock band (titled the Paranoids, no less), and a presumptuous child-star-turned-lawyer named Metzger. What exactly are we working with, here?

     Compared to these people, Oedipa actually appears on the normal side, even with her "Hi, I'm Arnold Snarb and I'm looking for a good time" name tag and her obsession with an underground mail system. So, if Oedipa's bizarre actions are starting to feel pretty comfortable to us as readers, does that give some light to the argument that maybe the reader is being given a couple spoonfulls of the crazies...just often enough to keep us in that world where nobody knows what the heck is real? In Oedipa's version of Southern California, there are secret societies trying to distinguish their addictions for love by lighting fire to their gasoline-soaked neckties and hanging around in homosexual-themed bars simply to illeviate any gender-related sexual relevancies that might exist. There is also an elaborate conspiracy going on involving forged mail stamps, a scientific invention known as Maxwell's Demon, a Shakespeare-type stage play involving a ridiculous amount of incest and the removal of a Cardinal's tongue which is eventually impaled on a sword and set on fire. These things are supposed to be aspects of every-day life in the world of the novel. They are portrayed with a mood of acceptance and no one seems to react strangely to them in the least. This is the sort of thing that can drive a reader mad with sanity if he or she actually stops, pulls him or herself out of the novel, and realizes what sort of brainwashing is going on. The effect is uncanny! We are just as crazy as they, and that's exactly what Thomas Pynchon wants.

Katherine Kennon (2005)